Men and Women

[2014 marks the beginning of the centennial of World War I, the Great War.  This is the second in a series of articles taken from Presbyterian publications for relating to the Great War.  This is an extract from the Men and Women column originally published 10 February 1914.  Perhaps the editor found this report in a news release and thought it suitable to adapt for his readers?]

Alfred Noyes, 1913.  Image from Wikimedia Commons

Mr Alfred Noyes has evidently been making a great impression in America, not only by his lectures on literary subjects, but as a peace propagandist.  The reading of his poem, “The Wine Press,” at a meeting of a New York club is reported to have aroused a great wave of feeling against the horrors of war.  On Christmas Eve a new play of his, “Rada,” a tragedy of the Balkan War, was given at a festival of the MacDowell Club, one the most prominent literary and artistic organisations in the United States.  When it was read to the committee, it proved to be so grim that some of the members strongly opposed presenting it at Christmas.  Others thought nothing could be more appropriate, and after no small discussion its production at the festival was finally decided on.

The Wine Press

A MURDERED man, ten miles away,
Will hardly shake your peace,
Like one red stain upon your hand;
And a tortured child in a distant land
Will never check one smile to-day.
Or bid one fiddle cease.
 It comes along a little wire,
Sunk in a deep sea;
It thins in the clubs to a little smoke
Between one joke and another joke,
For a city in flames is less than the fire
That comforts you and me.
Each was honest after his way,
Lukewarm in faith, and old;
And blood, to them, was only a word,
And the point of a phrase their only sword,
And the cost of war, they reckoned it
 In little disks of gold.
They were cleanly groomed. They were not to be bought.
And their cigars were good.
But they had pulled so many strings
In the tinselled puppet-show of kings
That, when they talked of war, they thought
Of sawdust, not of blood;
Not of the crimson tempest
Where the shattered city falls:
They thought, behind their varnished doors,
Of diplomats, ambassadors,
Budgets, and loans and boundary-lines,
Coercions and re-calls.
Slaughter! Slaughter! Slaughter!
The cold machines whirred on.
And strange things crawled amongst the wheat
With entrails dragging round their feet,
And over the foul red shambles
A fearful sunlight shone.…
The maxims cracked like cattle-whips
Above the struggling hordes.
They rolled and plunged and writhed like snakes
In the trampled wheat and the blackthorn brakes,
And the lightnings leapt among them
Like clashing crimson swords.
The rifles flogged their wallowing herds,
Flogged them down to die.
Down on their slain the slayers lay,
And the shrapnel thrashed them into the clay,
And tossed their limbs like tattered birds
Thro’ a red volcanic sky.

The poem was not printed to accompany the article in The Outlook.  We can only guess what readers would have made of it.  Alfred Noyes’ play “Rada” is available on Project Gutenburg.

By Andrew

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